Disclaimer: The world belongs to Tolkien, the words alone are mine.
Ioreth brushed dark curls out of her face, leaving a streak of dirt on her cheek as she did so. She'd actually been out fetching herbs for Mam, but the wild radishes she'd found would make a good addition to dinner.
She was bent over the earth, concentrating on the task at hand, and wondering whether it would be worth the trouble she'd get into for trespassing on Mirron's farm to snitch a handful of blackberries from the bushes up by his barn. Probably not, although she might already be in trouble for wandering so far from Mam's cottage.
So she didn't hear the horses coming until the voices of their riders came echoing over the grasslands of Lossarnach, making her jump. Slipping her basket over her shoulder, she crept towards the noise, keeping low in the grass.
It was a man and a woman, and they were arguing, although they didn't seem too serious about it. Their clothes were plain, the lady wearing no more adornment than a crown of flowers, like the older girls did when they went to dances. Still, somehow she knew that these were important people. They didn't act like the farmers or hunters or merchants that came to Mam's cottage sometimes.
Ioreth had never seen a king or a queen, because there weren't no kings or queens in Gondor, not anymore, but she reckoned that if there were, they would look like that.
Suddenly the man turned his head, smiling in her direction. Though Ioreth was sure she had not made any noise, he looked straight at where she crouched in the tall meadow-grass, and called, "Come out, little one, and say hello."
They slipped off their horses while she was still debating whether or not to bolt, and she saw that the woman carried a little baby. That was all right, then. Ladies with babies were mothers, and all the mothers Ioreth knew were nice. So she stepped out from her hiding place, looking up at the man. He was very tall, taller than Bachor, who Ioreth had thought was the tallest person in the world.
"What is your name?" he said, which was a very ordinary thing to say. She relaxed a little. Perhaps they were just travellers, headed to or from Minas Tirith.
"Ioreth." she replied, suddenly very aware of her tattered clothes and her dirty face.
"I am Arathorn, and this is Gilraen." he said, indicating the woman next to him. "We are glad to meet you, Ioreth."
"And this is Aragorn." said the lady, kneeling down to show Ioreth the baby.
The baby was very little, but his eyes were big and wide, and he looked straight at Ioreth and reached out to grab her hair. She giggled, letting him catch her finger in his hand, forgetting her fear of these strangers. "Hello, Aragorn."
"What are you doing out here all on your own?" asked the woman, Gilraen. She sounded worried, which was strange because nobody ever worried about Ioreth, unless she did not finish her chores on time.
"I am gathering herbs." she explained, showing the basket. "For healing."
"Oh?" asked Arathorn, smiling. "Are you a healer, little one?"
"I am not little." she said, raising her chin. "I am eleven years old. And I am not a healer, but I will be. Mam is teaching me. I know all about herbs."
The man and the woman exchanged a look, the way that adults did when they thought they knew something you didn't.
"I am sure you do." said Gilraen. "Show me which ones you have found today."
Smiling happily, for showing off her knowledge was one of Ioreth's favourite things to do, she went through the basket, naming each herb and it's purpose.
"…and this is Bifoyl, and you boil it, and put it on cuts to help them heal. Pellitory is for coughs and this one is Pepperwort." She looked up at Gilraen, smiling shyly. "That helps with stomach-aches, but it tastes very bad."
Gilraen chuckled. "And this one?" she asked, touching a finger to a bundle of dark leaves.
Ioreth frowned. "That is Kingsfoil. Mam says it's a weed, but I think it smells nice. Besides, Mam says that Yavanna made every plant with a purpose, so it cannot be just a weed, can it?"
"Indeed" said Arathorn. "You are very wise, little one. Your parents must be very proud."
Ioreth shook her head. "Don't have no parents." she explained, shrugging. "Mam says I will be a good healer though, if I learn not to be so incorrigible"
Gilraen chuckled. "I am sure you will be a wonderful healer, Ioreth. Do you think you could help us with something?"
"Arathorn has managed to get us lost."
"Not lost. Misplaced. I told you it was a while since I'd been here."
"Lost." said Gilraen, smiling, and Ioreth smiled back. "We're looking for Feredir's homestead; do you know where that is?"
Ioreth's eyes widened. "The Ranger?" she asked. "I do, but I'm not meant to go there. He had to move upstream two summers ago. Can show you, but" tugging at Gilraen's clothing, "you shouldn't go talking to Rangers, Lady Gilraen. Mam says so."
"Yes, well my mother always said it would get me into trouble." replied Gilraen, and Arathorn stifled a laugh. "But we need to speak to this one. We can take you back to your Mam's cottage afterwards, if you'd like."
"Not my Mam." Ioreth said. "Just Mam."
Gilraen had had a bundle which had turned out to contain blackberries, so Ioreth hadn't had to creep up to Mirron's after all. They'd sung as they rode – such songs as Ioreth had never heard before, Elf-songs they were. And at the end, Arathorn had given her a shiny copper coin, which she had saved up for market, and bought herself enough sweetmeats to make herself ill with. Mam had been so impressed by her visitors that she'd even forgotten to take a swipe at Ioreth's legs with the broom for being late home.
Ioreth remembered this as she stood in the crowd, letting the conversation ebb and flow around her. The healers tended to move in groups. A herd of cattle, a flock of birds, and a gossip of healers, as she was fond of saying.
Some were worried 'bout having a King again, after all this time. Ioreth was not.
"Why not, 'reth? What makes you so sure?"
And because they'd never believe her if she said 'because he takes after his father', she'd just smiled, humming a snippit of song under her breath.
"Just trust me. He'll do fine."